A blindside hit, a history of violence and a league-wide crackdown on rough play earned Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres one of the longest suspensions in NHL history.
Torres was suspended 25 games by the league Saturday and will miss the rest of the playoffs for a late hit that resulted in Chicago's Marian Hossa being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
After one of the least-penalized regular seasons in the NHL's modern era, Torres is the ninth player to be suspended during what's been an out-for-blood playoffs so far.
"I think it's a precedent," Chicago center Brendan Morrison said Saturday, a few hours before Phoenix tried to clinch its first-round series over the Blackhawks. "We've been talking about it for so long over the course of the last couple of years and there has been more suspensions, but the message isn't getting through to guys. I don't know how it can't get through after this."
Torres issued a statement Saturday through the NHL Players' Association.
"My main concern is for the healthy recovery of Marian Hossa, and I hope that he will be able to get back on the ice to compete again soon. I sincerely regret injuring Marian," Torres said. "Regarding the severity of the suspension issued, I will take the next few days to decide whether or not to appeal the decision."
Torres' suspension is the longest for an on-ice offense since New York Islanders forward Chris Simon was banned 30 games for stomping on the ankle of Pittsburgh's Jarrko Ruutu in December 2007.
It also matches the second-longest suspension: Simon also was suspended 25 games for his two-handed stick attack to the face of New York Rangers forward Ryan Hollweg in 2007 and so was Philadelphia's Jesse Boulerice for cross-checking Vancouver center Ryan Kesler across the face in 2007.
"The ruling is very severe for Raffi and our hockey club," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said in a statement. "Raffi plays a hard, physical game yet this contact crossed the line on what is acceptable in our game today. We hope Marian Hossa makes a full and speedy recovery as we all enjoy watching him perform."
If the 25 games of his suspension aren't exhausted during the playoffs — the Coyotes would need to play four straight seven-game series to complete the suspension — the ban carries over into the next regular season. Torres would not be able to play in any preseason games in that case.
As a repeat offender, Torres would forfeit $21,341 in salary for every regular-season game he sits out.
Torres had a goal and an assist and averaged more than 19 minutes of ice time for Phoenix in the first three games of the series.
"The league has made its decision and there is nothing we can do about it now," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We deal with it as a club and Raffi has to deal with it, but our focus is solely on what we had to do tonight. It's an unfortunate incident, but the league has had its say and we move on."
Torres wasn't penalized when he left his feet to hit an unsuspecting Hossa during Game 3 Tuesday in Chicago, smashing the Blackhawks forward to the ice. Hossa lay on the ice for several minutes before being taken away on a stretcher and hasn't appeared again in the series.
Torres didn't play in Game 4 on Thursday, which Phoenix won in overtime to take a 3-1 series lead, and had a hearing with league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan on Friday.
Shanahan said in a statement that Torres' hit violated three rules: interference, charging and illegal check to the head. In determining the length of the suspension, Shanahan noted that Torres caused severe injury and his discipline history consists mainly of acts similar to the hit on Hossa, including two this season.
"Despite knowing that Hossa no longer has the puck, Torres decides to finish his check past the amount of time when Hossa is eligible to be body-checked," Shanahan said.
"While we acknowledge the circumstances of certain hits may cause a player's skates to come off the ice," he added, "on this hit, Torres launches himself into the air before making contact. ... The position of Hossa's head does not change just prior to or simultaneous with this hit. The onus, therefore, is on Torres not to make it the principal point of contact. By leaping, Torres makes Hossa's head the principal point of contact."
Shanahan has been criticized for being inconsistent in doling out punishment in what's been the most penalty-filled playoffs since 1998 — 18 penalty minutes per game, according to STATS LLC.
Early in the playoffs, Shanahan fined Nashville captain Shea Weber the league maximum $2,500 for being "reckless" in punching and then shoving Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg head-first into the glass in Game 1 of their series. Zetterberg wasn't hurt, but questions were raised on whether Weber should have been suspended,
The series between the state rival Flyers and Penguins was more like a UFC fight at the start, the teams racking up 282 penalty minutes the first four games. The Coyotes-Blackhawks series has been testy, too; Chicago rookie Andrew Shaw was suspended three games for running over Phoenix goalie Mike Smith in Game 2 before Torres' hit on Hossa.
"You never know what they're calling," Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris said. "You don't know what's going to be a hard hit, what's going to be a penalty. There's been plays you look at and you think, well that one should have been more, that one should have been less. You just don't know how it's going to be called so I don't know how you can adjust the game."
The league made big strides in preventing head injuries this season after numerous stars — Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Vancouver's Daniel Sedin, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews among them — missed games because of concussion-related injuries. The regular season was the least-penalized in 23 years, according to STATS, with teams averaging 11.2 penalty minutes per game.
That's all changed in the playoffs and the league, along with many of the players, seems to have had enough.
"I'm sure a lofty suspension like that would make any player kind of rethink their actions," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "Maybe he doesn't think it was such a normal hockey play anymore."
Torres was suspended for two games in January for charging Minnesota Wild defenseman Nate Prosser and for four games in April 2011 for a hit to the head of Edmonton's Jordan Eberle while playing for Vancouver.
Torres also had a big hit in last year's playoffs with the Canucks that knocked out Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook for two games. Torres wasn't suspended for that hit despite the Blackhawks' calls for one.